Summary of UNCLOS and the South China Sea event
On May 6, 2013, the Stimson Center and the Washington Foreign Law Society co-hosted a panel on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the recent action brought by the Philippines against China at the UNCLOS tribunal. About 70 people, from foreign media to U.S. legal scholars to diplomats, attended the panel and engaged in a lively post-panel discussion.
Panelists included Dr. John Norton Moore, the Walter L. Brown Professor of Law, Director of the Center for National Security Law and Director of Center for Oceans Law and Policy at the University of Virginia School of Law; Retired Navy Capt. J. Ashley Roach, former attorney adviser in the Office of the Legal Adviser, U.S. Department of State during 1988-2009 with responsibility for law of the sea matters; Dr. Jonathan D. Pollack, director of the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution and former professor of Asian and Pacific Studies at the Naval War College and chairman of the College’s Strategic Research Department; and Richard Cronin, director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Stimson Center.
Captain Roach (USN, Ret.) and Dr. Moore both highlighted how nations like the United States and Soviet Union historically had redefined their interests with regard to the Law of the Sea, moving away from coastal interests and actively supporting free navigation as they became global powers. Panelists also examined the validity of the nine-dashed line as an instrument with legal force in the context of UNCLOS, concluding that continuing to justify claims in the South China Sea using the 9-dashed line may actually hurt China at the UNCLOS tribunal. Dr. Moore also recommended expanding ASEAN framework discussions to economic interests and highlighted how the recent ASEAN-drafted SCS Code of Conduct may play a critical role in supporting research, search and rescue, and other non-economic multilateral operations in the South China Sea while territorial disputes are resolved.” Dr. Pollack noted that the situation was made even more complex by the lack of consensus within China on the Nine-Dash Line and related issues.